E-books and the price of coffee

One of the stupider things enraged writers (singularly from the US or the UK, of course) like to throw out – besides “pirating e-books is literally like stealing the wallet out of my pocket” (yes, literally! right?) – is that buying an e-book is like buying a 1-3 $4 cups of coffee – and if you can afford a cup of coffee, why can’t you afford an e-book? (assuming e-books prices of between $4-$15 US).

It’s singularly stupid. First of all, who the hell spends $4 a day on a cup of coffee? That’s $120 a month just on coffee! Which is a third of your monthly salary if you live somewhere like the Laos, say (and that’s assuming you work for someone like the UN).

I don’t spent it. I care about coffee – deeply care about coffee, and far more, probably, than I care about books – and I spend those $4 on a bag of ground coffee which I prepare at home. One bag probably lasts me two weeks, so we’re looking at a total budget of $8 a month on coffee (excluding, you know, sugar and milk or the cost of heating up the water!), which is still less than the cost of most e-books.

And I live in a Western country now! I am actually allowed to buy e-books in my region, I am actually given the choice of buying those books. For more than my entire monthly coffee budget. (Incidentally, the cost of a cup of coffee somewhere like Laos is nowhere near $4, as it must account for the much lower local earnings. A cafe Lao costs, if I remember right, around 4000 kip (US 50c) and a luxury cup of European-style coffee costs 15000kip (around $1.50) so again, that coffee-to-ebooks comparison is essentially meaningless). The e-book still costs the same (i.e., it is priced for a US/UK resident), which is significantly more, ratio wise – it’s 26 cups of coffee per e-book.

There is just something terribly arrogant, not to say vulgar, about that $4 cup of coffee statement.